Boise Hawks manager Gary Van Tol said before the playoffs started that he was excited to see how his players would respond to the pressure of the postseason.
Well, his players will face the ultimate test Monday night: a do-or-die game for the Northwest League championship.
The Vancouver Canadians defeated the Hawks 4-2 on Sunday in Canada to even the best-of-three series at one game apiece.
Vancouver will try to win its third straight title on its home field, with first pitch scheduled for 8:05 p.m. Boise will be aiming to win its first NWL title since it nailed down its last championship Sept. 9, 2004, exactly nine years ago.
Win or lose, the biggest thing for me is that these guys come out and compete. Thats all you can ask for, Van Tol said. Im looking forward to one last opportunity with this group, in this situation, on this stage. Its winner take all. We have full intentions of taking care of that last step.
Sundays game essentially boiled down to one hit, a two-run triple by Vancouvers Andy Fermin in the seventh inning.
That was the difference, Van Tol said.
Boise had its chances, however. The Hawks left the bases loaded in the fourth inning and again in the eighth.
It was a good ballgame, Van Tol said. A great atmosphere, a sellout, everything we expected.
Starter Paul Blackburn, who was stellar in Boises first postseason win against Salem-Keizer, came up with another strong effort. He went five innings and struck out a career-high nine batters while giving up three hits and an earned run.
Boise got an RBI double out of Jordan Hankins in the second inning, and Danny Lockhart drove in another run in the eighth.
But Fermins big hit off Corbin Hoffner, who allowed three earned runs, forced the third and deciding game. It was the first loss of the postseason for Boise, which swept Salem-Keizer in the first round.
Boise will start Michael Wagner (0-3, 4.38 ERA) Monday night. Wagner was selected in the 15th round out of the University of San Diego in Junes draft. Wagner has been a situational pitcher with the Hawks, appearing in 10 games and starting four.
He doesnt need to give us six, seven innings, Van Tol said. He knows that. If he goes four or five, that would be a bonus. Weve got plenty of help behind him. Hes a college guy from a good program, and hes been in some big games and has that closer mentality.
Vancouver will counter with Tom Robson (3-0, 0.94 ERA). Robson is considered one of the top pitchers in the Toronto Blue Jays system.
Sundays game drew a crowd of 4,655, and Monday nights game figures to be packed, too.
If Van Tol wanted to see how his players responded to the pressure of the playoffs, hes certain to get his chance in the last game of the season.
We knew it was going to be tough, he said. But we have a chance to play for the championship.